Some stories are harder to tell than others, but a magazine about university research has a duty to not shy away from the tough ones. Some topics invite debate because the public that pays for the work is divided. Nuclear power comes to mind. So do population growth and immigration. Telling these stories requires soul-searching and sensitivity on the part of writers, editors and designers. In this and the next two issues, we tackle another one: the use of animals in research.
Oregon State University doesn’t use primates in research, a practice that has engendered controversy when cases of inhumane treatment and needless suffering have surfaced elsewhere (read Deborah Blum’s classic The Monkey Wars). But OSU scientists use mice, rats, fish, snakes, horses, dogs and cows — about 400 species in all — to study the complexities of biological processes. Terra has written about such work in the past: mice and bone development; dogs and cancer; wild horses and reproduction; zebrafish and embryonic development.
It’s no exaggeration to note that millions of human lives have been saved by research based on animals. Polio vaccines and stroke treatments were developed through tests on monkeys. Insulin was discovered through work on dogs. At OSU, scientists have learned about immune system function through work on mice. Others have used zebrafish to demonstrate a connection between animal behavior and BPA, a chemical used in cans and plastic bottles.
Animals also benefit from the knowledge gained. Treatments for feline leukemia have arisen from work on HIV/AIDS. Surgical research has contributed to hip and heart-valve replacements for dogs.
No one is happy about having to euthanize animals, even for the greater good. Scientists are understandably nervous about public reaction to animal research, but in our experience, they are also highly committed to caring for the animals in their charge, making sure that the animals’ health and social welfare are maintained to the highest standards. OSU’s recent national accreditation for its practices in animal care underscores that commitment.